Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Leviticus can be a rather difficult book in the bible to read, as there's loads of gory details on how to properly conduct animal sacrifices, lots of repetition of various laws and commandments, lots of jumping around (laws are often first stated in one chapter and detailed several chapters later), narrative stories that are rather randomly inserted in the midst of chapters mainly consisting of lists and laws, and lots of indefensible acts of God's brutality and misogyny. Leviticus can almost be summed up by saying most of it deals with animal sacrifices: get an animal, kill it at the tabernacle, splash its blood around, cut it up into pieces, and set it on fire - as God finds this aroma to be a "sweet savor".

Right off the bat in our first chapter we're treated with instructions on how to sacrifice animals to God, and with a weak justification that this must be done so that God doesn't have to kill human beings for "sinning". How slaughtering animals is supposed to teach people who break laws, so that they learn not to break them again, is nonsensical. What purpose is served by animal blood being splattered around a tent and upon the right ear, right thumb, and big toe of a person's right foot is symbolic at best, and unsanitary (as well as dangerous to one's health) at its worst.

Grains, baked goods, and crops are also to be sacrificed and set on fire as well, which also pleases God very much with the "sweet savor" of burnt aromas, but he's extremely picky about whether or not ingredients like yeast, olive oil, or salt are to be used or avoided in specific circumstances. God also gets rather testy about the animal fat belonging to him and that it is not to be eaten, nor is blood to be consumed - which will be repeated and explained in greater detail later on in Chapter 7, and further still in Chapter 17.

God also gives detailed instructions on how to perform his various types of animal sacrifices. Among his sacrifices are "burnt offerings", "grain offerings", and "sin offerings" as well as, "guilt offerings", and "peace offerings"

The number seven holds significant symbolism as well throughout the book of Leviticus. A priest is required to sprinkle animal blood around the tabernacle seven times, a person "healed" from leprosy must be sprinkled with bird's blood seven times, every seventh year the land will have to be left unharvested as a "sabbath" - and after every seventh sabbath of the land a "Year of Jubilee" is to be observed, and God will increase his punishments upon the people of Israel sevenfold each and every time they disobey his laws and commandments.

While the first nine chapters of the book pretty much deal with sacrificing animals, we are also treated to a few narrative stories throughout Leviticus, such as:

God also gives a list of which animals are okay to eat, and which are "unclean" and unfit to eat.

God also ramps up his misogyny and sexism by declaring new mothers "unlcean", and making them go into quarantine after giving birth - in which you'll be quarantined longer if you happen to give birth to a baby girl. Of course, these new mothers will have to sacrifice animals to "atone" for the "sin" of giving birth, and also how "unclean" a woman is when she menstruates, and how she is to atone every month for her biological "uncleanliness" with animal sacrifices.

God also makes his priests play doctor - with vague medical instructions - in order to detect leprosy, exiling anyone the priest thinks might have leprosy, what to do when a leper appears to have been healed, the animal sacrifices the "former leper" must perform to be considered "healed" through God's standards, and how to treat a house that might be infected by leprosy.

God also threatens Aaron's life if he doesn't follow proper procedure when entering the "holy place" (the veiled off section) in the tabernacle. We also learn about scapegoats, where it is thought that "sins" can be magically transferred into a goat and that by letting the goat loose out into the desert you'll get rid of "sin".

God also revises his stances on incest, which seem to contradict his tolerance of it from previous characters such as Abraham and his half-sister Sarah in the book of Genesis. In the same chapter, God also condemns bestiality, homosexuality, and having sexual relations with a menstruating woman, and claims that these are all practices that Egyptians, Canaanites, and other surrounding tribes engage in regularly - and that one shouldn't lower themselves down to following these "heathenistic" customs. Despite God's insistence that these were common practices by Egyptians, as well as other Middle Eastern tribes, there is no archaeological evidence to support this claim and is more likely to have been written to villainize the enemies of the Israelis and justify the slaughter and enslavement of the enemies of the people of Israel.

We are also introduced without explanation to a curious alleged pagan god named Molech when God mentions that one of his laws is that people are not to sacrifice infants by fire to this presumed god. Again, archaeological evidence does not support that any Middle Eastern tribe or civilization ever followed or worshiped such a god, and a more modern interpretation is that the word "molech" simply refers to the practice of human (infant) sacrifice by fire. However, within the context of the King James version of the bible "Molech" is treated as a proper noun and capitalized as if it were a proper name. We first encounter a mention of Molech in Chapter 18, and he is mentioned again in Chapter 20. Molech is mentioned in such a fashion as to assume the reader is familiar with this name and/or phrase and therefore is not given any explanation in the book of Leviticus.

Surprisingly, we also come across a chapter that is mainly filled with good laws - Chapter 19 - although it is occasionally peppered with some typically vain and misogynistic passages as well - including that a man having sex with a slave girl who is engaged to be married will result in the slave having to be flogged, while the man's punishment will simply be to sacrifice some animals at the tabernacle. Among the "good laws" God lays out are provisions to leave a portion of your crops to both the poor and for weary travelers; to respect their elders; and to treat employees and customers fairly.

God's good side however is short lived when the following chapter basically reads off death sentences for various "sins" which mostly result in stoning a person to death, or at the very least, excommunication. The following chart shows what punishment God demands for what "sins":
Death by stoningExcommunication/ExileDeath by immolationBarrenness/Infertility
  • Sacrificing infants by fire to Molech
  • Cursing your mother or father
  • Adultery (both the adulterer and adulteress)
  • Sleeping with your father's wife (both put to death)
  • Sleeping with your daughter-in-law (both put to death)
  • Homosexuals
  • A man or woman committing bestiality (both the person and animal are to be put to death)
  • Practicing magic or witchcraft, or being a spiritual medium
  • Sacrificing infants by fire to Molech (also death by stoning)
  • Refusing to participate in stoning someone to death
  • Consulting wizards or spiritual mediums
  • Marrying or having sex with your sister
  • Having sex with a menstruating woman (both the man and the woman)
  • Marrying or having sex with both a mother and her daughter (all three must be set on fire)
  • A priest's daughter who prostitutes herself
  • Having sex with or marrying your aunt
  • Having sex with or marrying your brother's wife
God's next laws deal with the priesthood, and command that priests aren't allowed to touch dead bodies, shave any bald spots in their heads, or marry anyone aside from virgin full blooded Israeli girls - marrying a foreign woman "profanes" the priesthood. Also God doesn't want any deformed, crippled or handicapped priests performing animal sacrifices, or going behind the veil in the tabernacle. God's list of deformities includes "having a flat nose", dwarfism, broken bones in hands or feet, having scabs, scurvy, blindness, a crooked back, or injured testicles. These freaks are not allowed near the sacrificial altar or the behind the veil in the tabernacle as they will "defile" the tabernacle. God also explains that the meat of the animal sacrifices is only to be eaten by priests and their households who fall under his definition of "clean". Excluded are any daughters married to foreigners or any priest with an STD, disease, or leprosy. The priest's slaves may enjoy these meals, but hired servants may not.

In the following chapter, God outlines all of the annual holidays that must be celebrated, most of which center around animal sacrifices. The festivals are to also be observed as a "sabbath" day, and disobeying this will result in death by stoning.

God next explains the fifty year celebration of the "Year of Jubilee" - which basically clears all the people of Israel of their debts to others - family land that was sold over the years must return to the original owners, and any Israeli serving as a "slave" to another gets to return to his family. However God makes a clear distinction that Hebrews are not to be enslaved in a traditional fashion and are instead to be treated like hired workers and are to be released every fifty years in the "Year of Jubilee". However, God encourages the enslavement of the surrounding "heathen" tribes, and that those slaves can be overworked, beaten, and handed down your family line, as non-Hebrew slaves are indeed property and not fully human, and thereby aren't deserving of any basic civil human rights.

In the next chapter, God basically tells the Israelis how wonderful life will be if they follow and obey all of God's laws, but also threatens them with plagues, death, and destruction if they disobey any of his laws. However, even after he's decimated their population, if the survivors can truly repent, God will fulfill his promises of giving them their "promised land" back.

Leviticus closes out with God putting monetary values on human life - which of course based on God's sexism places much higher values on males than their female counterparts. Basically every person, animal, crop, and farmland is to be taxed with the taxes going to fund the operation of God's tabernacle and to put money in the priests' pockets.

All in all the book of Leviticus is mainly a list of laws that are overwhelmingly tyrannical, sexist, gruesome, xenophobic, and laden with cruelty. While there are slivers of good natured positive laws - almost exclusively contained in Chapter 19, the majority of them are simply downright sadistic and sexist by any basic standard of morality and decency. The book also contains many absurdities, such as requiring that all women are to sacrifice a pair of birds every month simply for menstruating (which when we do the math would have resulted in the deaths of over half a billion birds over the 40 years in the desert, during the Exodus alone) and coaching priests to play doctor and diagnose cases of leprosy simply by looking at the color of blemishes in the skin. We also find that not only does God condone slavery, he actually endorses it as well, instructing that non-Hebrews are to be enslaved and kept as property forever, and are to be inherited by future generations. God shows that he's very much in favor of capital punishment, and that even trivial offenses such as using God's name improperly deserve a brutal death by stoning, and that "more serious offenses" such as marrying a wife and her daughter, or a priests daughter becoming a prostitute, call for higher measures by setting the offenders on fire. Even if you can justify capital punishment, there is simply no way any rational human being can ever condone setting another person on fire as a "just" punishment - for anything.


  1. Thanks so much for doing this blog. It is obviously a time-intensive activity for you. It is well written, with and an easy-to-read style, absorbing and amusing. And it puts everything into perspective to read your summary and comments on each chapter, and your recap at the end of each book. Keep it up!
    Derek (New Zealand)

  2. Thanks for your comment, Derek, as I'm always glad to hear feedback from anyone - regardless of whether we agree or not.

    I've had several people tell me that this blog has been sort of a "cliff notes" version of the bible to them, and I'm glad to hear that others who may never have gotten past the archaic usage of English in most biblical translations are able to read along with me. I'm also hoping that my friends who are believers will be able to step outside of their beliefs and see how the bible reads to someone who doesn't share their faith.

    So far, this has been a very fun and rewarding experience and it's opened up a lot of conversation from believers and non-believers alike. I'm hoping that it both helps people who've never read the bible understand it better (without being preached at) and broadens other people's perspectives of how the bible appears to someone without the bias of having automatic faith in its "truth".

  3. Hi, and I should just add that I very much agree with your views. Having been brought up in the Christian church it wasn't until well into adulthood that I began to see the holes in what we believed. It is very liberating to see these beliefs for what they are - i.e. often quite irrational.

  4. Hi Derek,

    While I do agree that coming to the conclusion that many of the beliefs contained in the bible are irrational is indeed liberating in the long run, it can be quite frightening and difficult for many to let go of faith - probably compounded by the length of time the person has clung to these beliefs.

    In some ways I consider myself fortunate that I began to deconvert in childhood, but at the same time I also went through a period of time where I was very angry and bitter towards religion, not yet being mature enough to accept my feelings of having been duped, and not comprehending how I could clearly see something that my parents and family could not.

    Regardless, while initially it may be rough to abandon faith, you're absolutely right that it is liberating once you've managed to do so.

  5. Hi Zadoc
    I guess people manage to traverse the deconverting process with a variety of feelings, as there is very much a grieving process involved, and some get through grief better than others. Fortunately I didn't encounter intense negative emotions. The fact that I was already in my 30s and generally a laid-back person probably made a difference.
    I continue to read your blog regularly with interest.